Tuesday, June 24, 2008


Such a great, strong record, live at NYU 3/22/69. "Broken Shadows" just tumbles out on the listener, the gorgeous dirge repeated by the players acting as a well for the solos that emerge and recede back in more than act as "solos". Stunning, heart-rending. Just as extraordinary, the theme from "Comme il Faut", launched out there, equal parts bravado and melancholy, Haden so probing, Cherry fresh in from his explorations into dozens of musical cultures, feeding them into the harmolodics, Redman so soulful, Ornette floating up...one of his very best. As if that wasn't enough, we get s rousing performance of "Song for Che" to begin Side Two, still one of the loveliest melodic lines I know. The final two pieces, "Space Jungle" and "Trouble in the East" are a bit more frenetic and jumbled, still quite enjoyable with many of Cherry's own eastern influences putting in an appearance. All in all, one of my favorite Ornette recordings, never issued on disc as far as I know. There's a kind of wooliness, a sizzle around the edges of something not quite honed to perfection yet but all the more exciting in its unpolished state.


Not released by Columbia until 1982, "Broken Shadows" consists of recordings from the "Science Fiction" sessions and two outliers with the surprising presence of Jim Hall and Cedar Walton (at that point, only the second time Ornette had recorded with piano, if I'm not mistaken), as well as singer Webster Armstrong. Hit and miss, though the hits, "Broken Shadows" and "Elizabeth", both dirges, are incredible. First appearance of "Happy House", I believe (never a favorite Ornette tune of mine). Those two with Hall et. al. are kinda strange (there's a woodwind section as well), weird amalgams, slightly reminiscent of Art Ensemble forays like "Certain Blacks". Actually, "Is It Forever?" has some general similarities with that odd Abrams piece on "Things to Come from Those Now Gone", "How Are You?"


I've written about this before any number of times, but what the hell.

There I was, 17 years old, in the spring of my senior year in high school (1972), reading an interview with Don Van Vliet in Rolling Stone (back, young 'uns, when Rolling Stone was largely a music-oriented paper not a fashionista rag). During its course, he was asked to name his favorite musician and said, "Ornette Coleman". "Hmmm," says I. Since CB was about my favorite musician at that time, I figured I should take his word seriously. As it happened, Columbia was promoting "Science Fiction" reasonably well, enough so that I had some vague notion of its existence (I think there might have been ads, with pics, in Rolling Stone itself). So I trundled down to Recordland in downtown Poughkeepsie and picked it up, my very first jazz album.

Rather a dive into the deep end of the pool. I liked it immediately, though I daresay it took a year or two before I semi-understood what was going on. I do remember spending a good bit of that summer, while I was washing dishes at the Springhouse on Block Island, humming and whistling "Law Years" (along with much of "Waka Jawaka", but we won't go into that). It's still one of my very favorite jazz recordings. I realize there's an immense amount of nostalgia clinging to my perception of it but, listened to as objectively as I can--dammit, it still kicks monster butt.


Before I forget, I'd love to get any recommendations on Asha Puthli recordings. I've looked around in stores a bit but it's real hard to get any sense from the CD packaging (plus I'm never quite sure if she and Asha Bothle are the same person....you never know with anglicizations of Hindi). I saw her with Henry Threadgill at BAM around 1987--pretty great. Absolutely love her here; there's really nothing else like her two songs (is there?). How horn-like her voice is!

So yeah, my first real taste of jazz. Blackwell killed me. Haden demolished me. The themes from "What Reason Could I Give", "All My Life" and "Law Years" were so moving. Cherry! His solo on "Civilization Day"! Then Ornette comes in for his first isolated playing on the record...Whole worlds opened. The way that piece just cascades right into "Street Woman" with its lovely descending theme (Haden furious on this one). And goddam Cherry again--such clarity. The intense psychedelia of the title track with David Henderson and the crying baby. (OK, I could do without the bible reference...) "Rock the Clock" dates, yes, but c'mon, Haden's wah-wah is still some amount of fun. "All My Life"--ah, just melts me; one of the sexiest vocals I know. And "Law Years", still just about a perfect jazz piece for me. Haden's awesomely deep solo, Ornette soaring and Blackwell...just so cool, so unfussy, so damn rhythmic, so musical. He's just as amazing on the last track, "The Jungle Is a Skyscraper". Set my personal standard for jazz drumming, right here. And Redman's guttural roar...

Still does it for me. Now I realize, objectively, that the odds of my happening on what would generally be considered one of the finest examples of modern jazz on my very first plunge are virtually nil. I've rarely if ever seen "Science Fiction" show up on anyone's "Top X" jazz recordings aside from my own, but tough. It's there, and there it'll likely stay.

4 comments:

Robert said...

Asha Puhthli and Asha Bhosle (or Bhothle) are definitely not the same person.

Science Fiction has long been one of my favorite records ever, jazz or otherwise. Crisis too. Law Years and Song For Che. Wow.

Steve said...

Science Fiction as an Ornette intro certainly beats mine of Dancing in Your Head, which pretty much gave me a headache, although I came to really appreciate the cut with the Moroccan musicians (which initially confused the hell outta me).

How can you not like Happy House? When Gordon and I were at the Montreal Jazz Fest in 2003 we were in a foul mood after enduring a mail-it-in Abdullah Ibrahim performance (in front of an ecstatic crowd; God knows what their criteria were). It was just dumb luck that led us to a small club where a crew of kids were playing great Ornette covers; Happy House was the first one we heard. Totally saved the evening.

Brian Olewnick said...

Dunno, Happy House has always carried a kind of rinky-dink association for me.

luis murillo said...

I was 20 when I bought Ornette's SF, and to this day I still hum or sing What Reason..., All my Life, Law Years, whenever I'm in need for a small happy time. Nostalgia? What the f...! SF has ever been on my TOP list since then. OK, I would swap Rock... for Lonely Woman, and then the bliss would be overwhelming.